Some improvements made to the curriculum, but concerns remain
By André Schutten & Ed Hoogerdyk
The Ontario government has released its new health and physical education curriculum. The 320-page document highlights what and when students will be taught under the following four strands: Social-Emotional Learning Skills, Active Living, Movement Competence, and Healthy Living.
A good chunk of the curriculum has nothing to do with sex; instead it focuses on important topics like diet, exercise, mental health, physical safety, biological development, and online safety. These basic elements of the curriculum are uncontroversial and we have no objections to their content. But there is more.
What follows is a deeper analysis of the curriculum, noting both improvements and remaining problems, and its likely impact on students, parents and teachers. We conclude with reflections on the political saga behind the curriculum update. We don’t want to be cheerleaders for the government, nor do we want only to criticize. We want to give credit where credit is due, and criticism where warranted.
Over the past year or so, ARPA Canada encouraged Ontario parents, teachers, and other stakeholders to participate in the consultation process. And many of you did! There are real advances such as a recognition of parental authority, a requirement for parental notification and better student opt-out options. These are things that would not have been accomplished without the hard work and engagement of committed Christians. While there are disappointing things remaining in the curriculum, we should still be encouraged that some change was made.
Curriculum – Improvements
We are thankful to note a few improvements in the updated curriculum. What follows are some key highlights of the curriculum and what parents can do to make sure they remained engaged and informed:
- The curriculum now teaches about the harms of pornography (see pp. 223-224), something that was missing from the previous curriculum. This is a big improvement, particularly in light of what porn does to the teenage brain and to social relationships.
- Abstinence and marriage are now taught in connection with sex (see page 254, for example). These concepts were absent from the previous curriculum. We will be the first to note that it won’t be taught as well as we’d like or as much as we’d like, but the reality is that teaching about sex for 12 years without any mention of love, marriage or abstinence at all – as in the previous curriculum – was worse. At least students will now be told these ideas and hopefully begin to consider them properly.
- Exemptions, notifications and opt-outs have been added. These are not discretionary as in the last curriculum, but mandatory (the word “must” is used). These are mentioned in a parents’ section, a teachers’ section, and a principals’ section of the curriculum and boards are required by the Minister of Education to create and implement these policies by the end of November, 2019. Abstinence and marriage are now taught in connection with sex. These concepts were absent from the previous curriculum.
- Educators are encouraged to approach some topics in the Healthy Living Strand with additional sensitivity, care, and awareness because of their personal nature and their connection to family values, religious beliefs, or other social or cultural norms. (Strand D – Healthy Living – page 40). The mention of religious beliefs here is encouraging.
- Teachers should teach in a way that explores all sides of an issue to promote better understanding. (Strand D – Healthy Living – page 40). There should be a culture of mutual respect fostered in the classroom; this could be a positive thing during discussions about healthy eating, substance use, addictions, human development and sexual health, and mental health. Exemptions, notifications and opt-outs have been added.
- The curriculum places importance on antidiscrimination education. A long list of examples is provided including race, religion, gender identity, gender expression, etc. (Program Planning – page 75). It’s encouraging to see religion added to this list but parents need to talk to their teachers to determine how tolerant the school is of differing religious views especially in the area of health education, sexual activity, and identity.
- Financial literacy education will be provided so students can become fiscally responsible and examine their own choices as consumers. (Program Planning – page 77). Parents should be supportive of education that promotes financial stewardship.
- The curriculum emphasizes literacy, critical thinking, inquiry, and research. (Program Planning – page 78-82). Parents should applaud this as authentic literacy in all subject areas is necessary for good teaching and learning.
Curriculum – Remaining Concerns
Some concerns remain regarding age appropriateness of topics or, indeed, the inclusion of certain topics at all.
- The most concerning aspect of the curriculum is the fact that the new gender ideology remains in the curriculum. This theory is completely unmoored from science (particularly biology) and from psychology and anthropology. The most concerning aspect of the curriculum is the fact that the new gender ideology remains in the curriculum. This theory is completely unmoored from science (particularly biology) and from psychology and anthropology.The propagation of this theory is noticeably confusing children at very young ages, causing undo stress and anxiety and, in some cases, psychological damage. ARPA Canada has researched this issue extensively. We stand committed to the truth that all children, regardless of their confusion about identity, deserve respect, love and care. However, this cannot mean affirming a lie about a child. The confusion of grade one students as to their identity (as reported in this article and this article) is negligence at best, and (in our opinion) criminal. It must be stopped, and that requires the Minister of Education to issue a directive to all elementary teachers in his employ to cease this reckless nonsense immediately.
- The healthy living strand contains much of what was in the previous curriculum. Parents should read this strand for each grade level carefully so they can determine if they wish to exempt their children from this part of the curriculum. Indeed, it is our position that parents, not government bureaucrats, should teach their children about the “birds and the bees”. What students will learn and when is as follows:
- In Grade 1, students will be taught to identify body parts, including genitalia (penis, testicles, vagina and vulva) (page 105)
- In Grade 1, students will be taught to use body-positive language (page 105)
- In Grade 1, students will learn about habits and behaviour, including vaping (page 109)
- In Grade 3, students will learn about the different types of legal and illegal substance use (page 149)
- In Grade 4, students will learn about puberty and the impact of bodily changes (page 174)
- In Grade 5, students will learn about the reproductive system (page 178), factors that affect the development of a person’s self-concept, including their sexual orientation (201) and about the negative effects of making homophobic comments (201-202)
- In Grade 6, students will learn about sexually explicit media and pornography (223-224)
- Grade 7, students will learn about delaying sexual activity and abstinence (254), sexually transmitted diseases (255) and pregnancy prevention (255)
- In Grade 8, students will learn about making decisions relating to sexual activity (281) and sources of support to go to including religious leaders, gender identity (male, female, Two-Spirit, transgender) and sexual orientation (heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, asexual) (282) and about abstinence, contraception and the use of suitable protection to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted blood borne infections (STBBIs) (285)
- Educators are encouraged to integrate health and physical education topics in other subject areas such as language lessons (Program Planning– page 64). Parents ought to check with their teacher and seek clarification here. This could be very problematic. If topics of sex and gender come up during English class can students be exempted if parents request, and will parents even be notified?
- Diversity is honoured and accepted (Program Planning – page 73). It would be prudent for parents to seek an explanation here. What does this mean for religious students who disagree with certain lifestyles?
- Learning is to focus on the prevention of behaviours that include homophobia and transphobia. In this regard, teachers are to examine their own biases (Program Planning – page 74). Parents would do well to maintain good communication with teachers and ask for teachers to define these behaviours.
The goal of the curriculum is to have a well-rounded educational experience that prioritizes social-emotional, physical and mental health. Some of the specifics include: striving to achieve one’s personal best, equity and fair play, respect for diversity, sensitivity and respect for individual requirements and needs, and good health and well-being (Preface and Introduction – Pages 3-8). A healthy and active lifestyle generally helps students to perform better academically as well.
We think it’s fair to say that the new curriculum respects the place of parents as the primary educators of their children. It states that parents are their children’s first role models. It emphasizes the need for schools and parents to work together to mutually support children. Parents are encouraged to discuss their children’s school work with them, communicate with teachers, and ask relevant questions about their children’s progress. The curriculum even recommends having meals together as a family, which can help to reduce negative behaviours in adolescence. (Introduction – page 14).
It’s good to see the Ministry stress the primary role of parents and the importance of parents knowing who is teaching what to their children. The curriculum is made publicly available for parents to review. We encourage parents to do so and make a determination whether to exempt their children from the lessons that may not be appropriate for them.
The new curriculum requires school boards to adopt policies that allow students to be exempted, at their parents’ request, from instruction related to the Grade 1 to 8 human development and sexual health expectations in strand D Healthy Living. (Introduction – page 14).
Teachers & Principals
Teachers must tell parents what their children are learning. The intent is to enable the parent-school partnership to promote dialogue, follow-up at home, and student learning in a family context. Its aim is to better support students in their learning, achievement, mental health, and overall well-being. Finally, principals must comply with their school board’s policy allowing students to opt out of portions of the curriculum. (Introduction – page 17-18)
This government adopts a deliberately different tone, signaled in the title of the government’s press release: “Supporting Students – Respecting Parents”. The new curriculum speaks repeatedly of involving parents and informing parents, and even provides resources for parents to teach this material at home as an alternative to learning it at school. We hope public schools teachers and administrators will adopt a similar tone and approach in practice.
Parents would do well to understand that, although we may be able to agree on much particular content, all education ultimately emanates from religious ground motives. This curriculum will be taught through a secular humanist lens (as all public school curricula are and have been for decades). Parents of children in the public education system must be vigilant. And Christian parents should not be naïve in thinking that “secular” means “neutral”.
Zooming out from the health curriculum, we believe that Ontario’s entire educational system requires change. Instead of funding one system, why not fund individual students, so that parents as first educators can make the best educational choice for their child’s individual needs? We recommend that you find a good independent school and work to change the way this province thinks about and does education.
Finally, we believe that if Christians had not engaged in this entire process, this curriculum would have been worse. Thank you for engaging in this process. Please continue building relationships with MPPs so that we can have a positive effect on more government policy.